Home Editorials (Not a) Rant: Toys are Mainstream

(Not a) Rant: Toys are Mainstream

What’s that boy? Is it already time for another rant? Oh no, this is just a riposte to an op-ed that lays down a point that misses the point. This time, I’m referring to an entry on ReadWriteWeb entitled “Tablets are Toys (Not Mainstream Machines).” Sounds like something that would trigger rant mode, but I can’t get past the critical flaw in the logic, which is that toys can’t be  mainstream machines.

It’s because you can’t work on a tablet. You can’t get things done without a decent working keyboard, whether it’s in the enterprise or for personal productivity. Normal people are never going to lug around a separate keyboard for their computer. The two most highly anticipated products, Arrington’s CrunchPad and the Apple tablet, are both going to be secondary entertainment machines, not the mainstream tech trend of the year.

First off, notice how that keyboard argument keeps popping up? It’s because people who write  for a living  equate typing with productivity. I have no problem with that line of thought (I’m employing that formula right now), but it’s not the only way to be productive. I deal with copy editors (real ones who wield the red pen), physicians, and  technologists every day, not just in the States but also other countries. Their productivity isn’t all  about typing and  not always in a language that lends itself to a keyboard. And let’s not forget the mobility advantage.

Second, what separates  toys from “mainstream” machines?  The writer  throws the term “mainstream” out there a lot but never really explains what that means. I recognize  he’s going at this with a focus on enterprise, but he keeps throwing out references to consumption devices, like the Kindle and iPod touch, that clearly are not enterprise-oriented (unless you’re in the media business). So where’s the line?

It seems to center around productivity, but somehow also includes personal devices, which don’t  necessarily need keyboards. The least productive machine in my house is a TV set, and I’m pretty sure it’s a mainstream machine. Ditto for the DVD player and stereo. Also a lot of actual  toys in my house, specifically Transformers. Aren’t those mainstream? Where is the line that separates tablets from “mainstream”?

Is it the secondary status that draws the line? Well, then wouldn’t any secondary device be considered not “mainstream”? That would include netbooks and even full  notebooks that people use as secondary devices. An iPod used for portable music would be secondary if you used a full stereo system at home. Does that indicate iPods aren’t “mainstream”? Oh, but iPods aren’t productive either, so they definitely would not be “mainstream,” except that everyone I know has one. It’s very confusing.

Third, what’s up with the “normal people” reference? Normal people don’t lug around notebooks with integrated keyboards  either. I lug a  notebook (convertible Tablet  PC)  every day. Trust me, it’s not normal. It is unusual.  So why point out normal people also  won’t carry separate keyboards?

Bottom line: If you think Tablets are Toys, that’s fine, toys are awesome,  but what does that have to do with  them not  being mainstream? The author cites: “The most mainstream device without a physical keyboard is the iPhone.” Okay, but as I wrote when it debuted,  it’s a phone with integrated iPod and YouTube viewer. Seems like a toy to me (and I prove that every day), yet somehow mainstream-ish. If voice and music make  that toy  mainstream, then why wouldn’t video and web surfing do the same for a tablet?

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  1. AvidInker

    08/05/2009 at 2:31 am

    Go get ’em Sumocat!


  2. Nameless

    08/10/2009 at 7:53 pm

    That’s a common misconception I see nowadays. Productivity = typing and NOTHING else.

    While I understand the value of a physical keyboard (I have a couple of IBM Model Ms and can hit 90+ WPM when “in the zone”), not all work is done using plain text. In fact, it shocks me that people consider netbooks good for note-taking, yet say nothing about Tablet PCs. Let me explain:

    -Diagrams are much easier to work with on a Tablet PC since you can just draw them in.
    -Complex mathematical equations just cannot be input easily with plain text. I really wish I had my TC1100 + OneNote back in high school, because it would have been a godsend for note-taking particularly in all of my math classes.
    -Even for text, there are only so many ways you can type out text. Maybe a bit of bold, italic, underline, strikethrough, subscript, superscript, different colors, and different fonts, but it’s not always easy to get to all those functions (especially subscript and superscript). With a Tablet PC, you just write your text the way you want to.

    Furthermore, Tablet PCs can be great art tools. For all the talk I see about applications like Photoshop, they’re associated with beefy workstation desktops and mobile workstation laptops, not Tablet PCs where the interface would be best-suited to that sort of thing. (Then again, it depends on the application-Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter aren’t associated too much with Tablet PCs, but Autodesk SketchBook Pro almost always is.)

    What we need is a paradigm shift to recognize exactly what it is we’re trying to accomplish, and how we might accomplish that something more easily. For instance, if you want to sign a digital document, most people would print it out, sign the printout, scan the signed printout back in, and then send it. With a Tablet PC, you just sign the digital document directly and be done with it.

    Also, a lot of people assume that Tablet PCs have no physical keyboard at all and are entirely dependent on pen/touch input, whereas most of the new Tablet PCs I see are convertible laptop models (Motion Computing and TabletKiosk products aside). Heck, even some of the dedicated slate tablets have detachable keyboards-all Motion tablets do, though I don’t think the HP Compaq TC1000/TC1100 approach (which in itself is a 21st-century Compaq Concerto of sorts) has been topped yet.

    In short, there are no absolutes here. You can just use it like a normal laptop and then pull out the pen when it suits you-for instance, another one of those dreaded math formulas you can’t just type. If anything, it only adds more flexibility.


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